JEFFERSON CITY — Although some Republicans objected to incurring more debt, Missouri senators gave initial approval Thursday to a plan that would authorize $600 million of bonds to pay for hundreds of long-needed repairs at state buildings and public colleges.
About one-third of the bond revenues would help finance the replacement of aging buildings at a state mental health hospital in Fulton. Another third would go toward a backlog of maintenance at state buildings, and the final third would be aimed at repairs at public higher education institutions.
Many of the repairs had been put on hold as state tax revenues fell and then slowly recovered from the recent recession.
"We have an obligation to the taxpayers of the state of Missouri to take care of state buildings, to maintain them," said Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, who is sponsoring the legislation.
Parson's bill had been stalled for several weeks because some Republicans are opposed to raising the state's debt limit. But after Parson distributed a list of specific projects that would be funded, those senators relented Thursday and allowed a vote. The bill won initial approval 26-7; a second vote is needed to send it to the House.
"We'll be putting our children and grandchildren in debt that they will eventually have to pay off. I don't like the idea of that," said Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, who had held up the legislation. "That said, the bill does have good intentions."
There is bipartisan agreement among legislators and Gov. Jay Nixon about the need to replace old buildings at the Fulton State Hospital. But the Senate legislation assumes a longer bond repayment period than a proposal from House leaders and goes further by also allowing bonding for improvements at other state facilities.
The legislation only authorizes the State Board of Public Buildings to issue the bonds.
Parson said he plans to hold a committee hearing next week on a ,separate measure that would list each of the projects to be financed, many of which would cost a few hundred thousand dollars each.
The projects would include numerous roof repairs, improvements to fire alarms, heating and air conditioning systems and the installation of emergency generators. The repairs would be made at state prisons, schools for the blind and deaf, mental health and youth services facilities, the State Fairgrounds, Highway Patrol facilities, veterans' nursing homes and general state office buildings.
More than $48 million would go toward repairs at the State Capitol and $2 million toward the Governor's Mansion.
"It's taking care of things that have been neglected for a long time and really need our attention now or they're going to lead to much more costly replacement later on," said Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles.
The higher education projects range from a $10,000 replacement of carpet with tile at Three Rivers Community College to nearly $30 million for Lafferre Hall, an engineering building at MU.
Supporters of the bonding plan said it's a good time for Missouri to borrow money because interest rates remain relatively low. But some senators bemoaned the fact that Missouri had not previously paid for the repairs with general revenues.
"To not set aside money for deferred maintenance is to not run government effectively," said Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis County. "Here we are today, having to go out and borrow (millions of dollars) to make up for the mistakes we made in budgeting."